Google is making a play for a bigger piece of the voice-based search market and it is looking to use its ability to drive online and offline sales to gain market share.
Google today at Shoptalk announced that it using artificial intelligence to make it easier for users of its voice-activated Google Home smart speaker devices to buy online. Among the features it is rolling out are the ability to buy multiple items from multiple merchants in a single transaction through the Google Assistant via Google Express, the search giant’s delivery service that’s available in an app and online. A consumer also has the ability to add items to her shopping list that’s accessible across multiple surfaces such as her Home device and smartphone.
Today’s announcement comes a little more than four months after Google launched Google Home on Nov. 4 and a little more than a month after it initially enabled consumers to shop with the Google Assistant on Google Home.
The new tools leverages the vast amount of information Google knows about its users, says Jonathan Alferness, vice president of product for Google Shopping. For instance, if a user says “Add paper towels to my shopping list,” the Assistant should know if the shopper prefers a particular brand, what retailer she has bought paper towels from in the past, as well as the consumer’s price sensitivity.
“Once a shopper adds the items to her list, the Assistant will go off and find the most efficient way to get those items to her in a way that’s personalized and tailored to her and her history,” he says. For example, if it knows she’s prone to comparison shopping, it might offer alternative products that are on sale. “Over time, it will look for opportunities to aggregate goods in a way that is most useful to the consumer and retailers. If someone is buying multiple goods it will determine how it can optimize those purchases across retailers. We believe we’re in a unique position as Google because we can connect consumers to different retailers, all of whom are playing the same retail game that focuses on price, selection and speed.”
Alferness also said Google is integrating retailers’ local inventory information, which merchants share with Google for the search giant’s local inventory ads, into the Assistant on Google Home. “This means that a shopper can ask, ‘OK Google, where can I find a chambray shirt in size small near me?’” he says. The Assistant will then say which nearby stores have the item in stock and how far each store is from the shopper’s location.
That approach could distinguish Google Home from Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices, which revolve around Amazon, says James McQuivey, a Forrester Research Inc. vice president and principal analyst.
“This could jump Google Home’s functionality ahead of Amazon,” he says. “The question is how effectively the technology works.” But, he adds, if Google can effectively leverage the vast amount of information it knows about its users—where they’re located, what they’ve searched, what retailers they’ve bought from in the past—it could offer a more well-rounded experience for users.
For now and the near future, Google doesn’t plan to add advertising within Google Home’s Google Shopping vertical, Alferness says.
Amazon isn’t taking Google’s challenge lightly. The online giant, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, today began enabling users of Alexa-powered voice search to use its fast delivery service Prime Now that promises same-day delivery within a two-hour window. Amazon says “tens of thousands” of items are available for free two-hour delivery by asking Alexa to order from Prime Now. Alexa can order multiple items at once, make recommendations and automatically choose the next available two-hour delivery window.
For now, smart speakers are a relatively small market; Forrester estimates there are about 10 million Alexa-powered smart speakers currently in consumers’ homes and less than 1 million Google Home devices
Alferness says it is early days for the market, noting that he expects it will take three to five years before the devices are integrated into most consumers’ daily lives. McQuivey is more optimistic. He expects the number of smart speakers like Echo Dot and Google Home will reach 20 million by the end of the year and could jump to 40 million if “something really interesting happens.”
“The big breakthrough will come when machine learning intelligence matures and it really starts to feel as though you’re having a conversation,” he says. “I think we could see a significant burst in that space next year.”